American History and Genealogy Project


Remarkable Superstitions

Notwithstanding the wisdom and light of the present age, there may be found as little to boast of in these matters, as our fathers had over the condition of their ancestors. We read with surprise now-a-days the accounts of apparitions, drums and trumpets in the air above, the doings of witches, and a hundred, other things that might be named, which were common two hundred years ago, and forget that thousands of the present day believe in second-sight, warnings in dreams, forerunners, and even witchcraft itself.

Governor Winthrop as piously believed the story of the rocking second-sight, which he records in his Journal, as the author of the Saxon Chronicle did that of Pope Leo, "who had his tongue cut out, and his eyes put out and was then driven from his see; but that soon afterwards he was able to see and speak, and again was pope as he before was."

Our object in this article is to present one or two striking cases of the delusions which prevailed just two centuries ago this present year. They have not been specially selected, but happening to fall under our observation, they are here given. They will be found in the second volume of Winthrop's Journal, as follows:

At a court in Boston, 1648, "One Margaret Jones, of Charlestown,1 was indicted and found guilty of witchcraft, and hanged for it. The evidence against her was:

1. that she was found to have such a malignant touch, as many persons, (men, women, and children,) whom she stroked or touched with any affection or displeasure, &c, were taken with deafness, or vomiting, or other violent pains or sickness;

2. she practicing physic, and her medicines being such things, as (by her own confession) were harmless, as aniseed, liquors, &c, yet had extraordinary violent effects;

3. she would use to tell such as would not make use of her physic, that they would never be healed, and accordingly their diseases and hurts continued, with relapses against the ordinary course, and beyond the apprehension of all physicians and surgeons;

4. some things which she foretold came to pass accordingly; other things she could tell of, (as secret speeches, &c.,) which she had no ordinary means to come to the knowledge of;

5. she had, (upon search.) an apparent teat* ***** as fresh as if it had been newly sucked; and after it had been scanned, upon a forced search, that was withered, and another began on the opposite side;

6. in the prison, in clear daylight, there was seen in her arms, she sitting on the floor, and her clothes up, &c, a little child, which ran from her into another room, and the officer following it, it was vanished. The like child was seen in two other places, to which she had relation; and one maid that saw it, fell sick upon it, and was cured by the said Margaret, who used means to be employed to that end.

Her behavior at her trial was very intemperate, lying2 notoriously, and railing upon the jury and witnesses, &c. and in the like distemper she died. The same day and hour she was executed, there was a very great tempest at Connecticut, which blew down many trees, &c.3

Not many days after the execution of the poor woman, it is related by our author, "that the Welcome of Boston, [of] about 300 tons, riding before Charlestown, having in her 80 horses and 120 tons of ballast, in calm weather, fell a rolling, and continued so about 12 hours, so as though they brought a great weight to the one side, yet she would heel to the other, and so deep as they feared her foundering. It was then the time of the county court in Boston, and the magistrates hearing of it, and withal that one Jones, (the husband of the witch lately executed.) had desired to have passage in her to Barbados, and could not have it without such payment, &c. they sent the officer presently with a warrant to apprehend him one of them saying that the ship would stand still as soon as he was in prison. And as the officer went, and was passing over the ferry, one said to him, 'You can tame men some-times, can't you tame this ship?' The officer answered, 'I have that here that, (it may be,) will tame her and make her be quiet;' and with that he showed his warrant. And at the same instant she began to stop, and presently staid; and after he was put in prison, moved no more."How it fared with the poor man we have no information. Not even his baptismal name are we sure of, though we are inclined to think it was Edward, who appears among the freemen of Massachusetts as early as 1631. If set at liberty he doubtless seized the earliest opportunity of escaping from a country where his character had been ruined.4 The name of Edward Jones appears in the records of Charlestown in 1636, and we do not find any other of the name of Jones there up to the time of the witchcraft in 1648; yet there may have been others, and there is a possibility that the Edward of the records may not have been the one who "so diabolically troubled" the ship.

We close this note with the curious definition of Witchcraft alluded to: "Witchcraft the black art, whereby, with the assistance of the Devil, or evil spirits, some wonders may be wrought which exceed the common apprehensions of men."

1. Mr. Frothingham, the accomplished historian of that town, has not been able to elucidate the text of Winthrop concerning this melancholy event, as the records there are entirely silent upon it.

2. The well known test of the times. No one was really thought to be a complete witch without such an appendage could be found about them. Hence the term witch-teat for merely well known, even to every child of mature years. It is not found in the dictionaries, not even in the "World of Words," or "Old Bailey," yet we think it ought to be there as much as witch, for assuredly one could not exist without the other, and one was as real as the other. It is a wonder that Bailey should miss it, or that Phillips, who gives such a grave definition to witchcraft should have passed over its most important attribute. Parliament before their times must have been based upon the existence of the witch-teat. The statute alluded to lies "against feeding and rewarding, and giving suck to evil spirits" It was believed that the Devil sent his imps to suck witches, or candidates for the art: that when they had performed that operation or service, (its object not being clearly defined) the person giving suck was fully secured in the service of his dread majesty.

3. Probably denying that of which she was accessed.
4. We should suppose that this would have convened every one that Heaven was giving testimony in favor of the accused; but true it is, that infatuation destroys the judgment.

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